Stuff ups protect the paedophiles
Sunday Herald Sun
22nd April 2012
PAEDOPHILES are like toxic waste dumps. Nobody wants one in their neighbourhood, but they have to go somewhere.
They could be living next door, but only police and welfare authorities know their addresses.
Their crimes might be heinous, but the courts suppress their names.
There's more chance of being named and shamed for drink driving than molesting a child.
As a former government media director I didn't just buy the line that the identities of sex offenders should be protected, I sold it. It was a policy based on civil liberties and the fear of vigilantism.
When former police minister Andre Haermeyer was privately pushing chemical castration as a solution, I told him he was nuts. His wasn't the most radical idea. Former Democrats leader Don Chipp reportedly wanted to tattoo their foreheads so we knew who they were.
A more sensible policy was adopted. Police checks for people working with children, extended supervision orders and a sex offender register so police could keep track of them.
It hasn't worked.
In the past week alone there's enough evidence of stuff-ups and cover-ups to force a major rethink.
The Catholic Church was accused of covering up suicides linked to sexual abuse by priests. The Archbishop admitted that even today, the church retains suspected paedophiles.
A report by the Law Reform Commission on the sex offender register said it wasn't working. At last count there were 4000 offenders on the register and more than 500 breaches in one year alone.
All of this on top of a recent report by Justice Phillip Cummins which said the system was giving paedophiles exactly what they crave - secrecy.
"The methodology of the paedophile is secrecy and the law should not itself provide a veil of secrecy to paedophiles," he said.
"Parents and families have a right to know if a serious sex offender if residing among them."
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the community has no such rights. Last week the church was savaged by Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton for failing to report complaints against the clergy to police.
"I can't think of a single referral we've had from the Catholic Church in the past couple of years I've been around," he said.
Archbishop Denis Hart says the church has its own internal process for dealing with complaints against priests and that of the 330 received, 320 have been upheld. But last week on the Neil Mitchell radio program, he confirmed that to this day the church does not always report them to police.
When Mitchell put it to him that since 1993 there had been 53 out-of-court settlements, he couldn't say how many offending priests were out of the church but still in the community.
Citing a need to respect the confidentiality of victims, he said he had dealt with every paedophile on his watch and they had been removed from ministry.
"I would say that normally they have been retained under the supervision of the church ... and we try to keep aware of what they're up to for obvious reasons."
So an unknown number of child-molesting former priests are still at large. They've been stripped of their role as the head of a parish, but have faced no criminal charges. They are not on the sex offender register. Retained by the Catholic Church, unknown to Victoria Police and free to groom their next victim.
To be fair to the Archbishop, he emphasised that he abhorred paedophiles and the shame they brought on the church.
And he said he welcomed any inquiry which gave the Church a chance to clear the air. Hours later the Baillieu Government announced a parliamentary inquiry into the way religious organisations handle sex abuse cases. Its first order of business should be to hand over those priests to police and determine if any laws requiring people to report crimes have been broken.
This inquiry and the recommendations by Justice Cummins and the Law Reform Commission will test the Baillieu Government's tough talk on law and order.
YESTERDAY the Government listened to Justice Cummins and flagged changes which would force judges to put the interests of victims, children and the public first before they imposed supression orders. It is yet to respond to last week's call by the commission for parents to be told, though only in certain circumstances, if their child is in contact with someone on the register.
"To permit disclosure of this information on anything other than a 'need to know' basis by police and child protection officers ... would encourage sensationalism within some sectors of the media and facilitate vigilante action within some sectors of the community," the commissioned stated.
Private online community registers already exist in Australia. It won't be long before people start using the paedophile's tool of the trade - social media - to identify offenders here.
Without proper checks and balances that's the sort of system that actually does lead to vigilantism.
A state-sanctioned public register for the highest risk predators could be one answer. Electronic bracelets and tracking devices might be another. Zero tolerance, lifelong jail sentences, take your pick.
For politicians who think it's all too hard, consider this: this should be the best and safest country in the world to bring up children.
Your job is to make it happen.